Friday, September 26, 2008

A Rugby Match

I attended a rugby match where there was no beer for sale at the stadium. I was distraught, having imagined watching a rugby match with a fine Namibian brew in my hand. Alas… apparently imbibing is done before the match. Or smuggled in.

Now before you dismiss rugby as a brutish sport that involves brawn a not very much brain power, you might want to stop by a match. These boys are athletic and look it. Unlike American football where you have several players that seem to store a lot of weight in their stomachs, the professional rugby players seem to store it all in their upper body. The game is action interrupted by a few pauses here and there when the ball goes out of play. The players think on their feet, improvise and are incredible athletes, as they sprint up and down the field, to score by kicking it between the goal posts or running it to the other side of the field. In an odd way… it reminded me of Quidditch, Harry Potter’s sport. Maybe because I still don’t understand the rules to either.

During the match it is common for them to lift each other up, cheerleader style (odd comparison I know) in order to catch a throw in.

Rugby has an incredible following, among white South Africans at least. The demographics in the stadium definitely demonstrated the opposite of South Africa’s racial composition, now it was 85% white and 15% other races. However it did demonstrate how tight-knit the white community can be as a chap sitting two rows in front, knew the white South Africans in the village next to mine.

The rugby match we attended was a mere 80 minutes long, however the fans were around the stadium, braaiing up a storm. Flags were everywhere, there was a palpable atmosphere of relaxed enjoyment, mingled with the scent of meat grilling and face paint.

In some ways, the match reminded me of American football or gridiron, as it is known here. The cheerleaders wore similar uniforms and danced like the American cheerleaders. And the fans were just as fanatical. I saw plenty of blue faces, many wearing a Viking hats with bull horns- supporters of the Blue Bulls. A cheetah costume indicated an ardent supporter of the Free State Cheetahs. Did I mention there were a lot of flags?
The first half we (another Peace Corps Volunteer, Peace Corps medical evacuees from Ethiopia, Swaziland, Mozambique) tried to decipher the rules and the cheers/jeers from the fans. We had planned on asking someone from the crowd, but the night sky opened into a drizzle in the second half and the stands cleared for the covered space, others covered there heads with their flags and signs and stuck it out. We were with the diehards… and emerged, bobbing along with the euphoria of the crowd, drenched but entertained.

It would have been better with a beer, though.

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